Top 5 Superhero Publishers Who Aren’t Marvel or DC Comics

Putting Limelight on the Lower Decks

Monoma: “I can’t get stronger on my own. I don’t possess the right stuff to be the main character. I can’t walk down that straight, noble path like you people. Still, I don’t resent what I’ve been given. Because it’s necessary to pull off these kinds of masterful performances – the one’s in which the supporting role upstages the lead!

My Hero Academia “Our Brawl” (Season 5, Episode 11)

Marvel and DC Comics have a stranglehold on the superhero genre. Both have turned hundreds of heroes into household names over the decades. Some names and items have even caught on as regular words, like “brainiac” or “kryptonite”. But they aren’t the only superhero publishers.

Many superhero publishers compete against the Marvelous movie stars and the Distinguished Competition. Their heroes aren’t as instantly recognizable, and they don’t have constant film adaptations of famous storylines, but they still step into the ring against the “Big Two.” So who are the Top 5 superhero publishers that aren’t DC or Marvel? Let’s find out.

#5 EC Comics

Known For: MAD, Tales From the Crypt, Judgment Day, Weird Science
Notable Characters: The Crypt Keeper, Alfred E. Neuman

Crypt Keeper:CUT! Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. What the hell are you doing? You call that hack-ting?
Horror Actor:Well… Yes, as a matter of fact I do call it ACTING.”
Crypt Keeper:Well, let me tell you something pal, you’re no Gory Cooper, you aren’t even a Robert Deadford. Another take like that and it’ll be back to bit parts for you, and I won’t say what ‘bits’ I’m talking about! [sighs] Okay everyone, reset!
Horror Actor:Directors. Where’d they dig this guy up?

Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

Most superhero publishers played it safe in the 1950s, releasing nothing more daring than superpowered cops and robbers stories. Some creators used humor and horror to push the boundaries of what comics could show. Chief among them was our number 5 pick: EC Comics.

Educational Comics was founded in 1944 to publish Bible stories and non-fiction. It was rebranded Entertaining Comics after the founder’s death in ’47 and focused on horror, science fiction, and war stories. Expressive artwork, world-weary war stories, and twist endings in the horror anthologies made EC Comics very popular.

Sadly, mounting concerns about comics causing juvenile delinquency led to the rise of the Comics Code Authority. This censorship board ruled the industry with an iron fist and gutted EC Comics’ horror series. EC had one last hurrah by publishing the famous story “Judgment Day” without the CCA’s permission, because the censors refused to allow the twist ending that a Black astronaut was the main character.

The CCA won the battle, but EC Comics won the war. The publisher focused all their attention on a humor series called “Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD.” Or as most people now know it, MAD magazine. The famous humor series outlived the Comics Code Authority, spun off a 14 season TV show and countless special editions. EC’s horror anthologies were later adapted into a popular TV show: Tales From the Crypt.

#4 Boom! Studios

Known For: Irredeemable, Lumberjanes, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
Notable Characters: The Plutonian, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Power Rangers

Lord Drakkon:So many Rangers. So much potential. Squandered for so long. It’s time to set things right. We will invade their worlds. Tear down anything that might protect them. And then, when it’s too late… when they’re powerless and alone… they’ll realize the truth: They could have been gods.

Power Rangers: Shattered Grid

Adapting superhero stories to the silver screen is hard work. After a while, a superhero publisher may to do the opposite and license stories and characters for comics. That method worked pretty well for Boom! Studios.

Boom! Studios began as an attempt to revive Atomeka Press. The company started small with titles like Zombie Tales and Hero Squared, but grew through word of mouth. Many writers were attracted by the opportunity to get away from the Big Two and write what they wanted, further increasing the publisher’s popularity.

Many licensed works help fill out Boom!’s repertoire. They’ve done spin-offs for Die Hard, Nightbreed, Firefly, a reboot of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and more. But don’t touch that dial. Boom! also has their own acclaimed work like the magical mystery series Lumberjanes and Superman deconstruction Irredeemable. The villain of that story even made our list of the Top 6 Evil Supermen.

One of Boom!’s most popular series is an adaptation of Power Rangers that expands on the characters and lore. It has launched several spin offs, including crossovers with the Justice League, the Ninja Turtles, and an upcoming crossover with Godzilla. Be right back, I gotta go high five my younger self about that last one.

#3 IDW Publishing

Known for: Locke and Key, Kill Shakespeare, Transformers
Notable Characters: Optimus Prime, Locke family

Megatron:You came all the way back here to save these people?! Why, Prime, because they’re innocents? They captured and tortured one of your own. They’ve sent a plane carrying a weapon that will slaughter millions of people just to get at us. You’re a fool.”
Optimus: “It’s not just about saving them, Megatron. It’s about who we are! It’s about the difference between us.

The Transformers: All Hail Megatron

Original works can help a superhero publisher, but making tie-ins to popular franchises is easier and more lucrative. If you can balance the two like IDW Publishing does, you’re in for a good time.

IDW was created when several creators at Wildstorm left to create a new company. Their first series, 30 Days of Night, was the subject of a bidding war to bring it to the silver screen. They released several more series, snapped up licenses for TV show adaptations, and reprinted out-of-print newspaper comics. The wide array of comic styles made IDW popular.

IDW specializes in supernatural stories and monsters. These include the magic keys of Locke and Key, vampires besieging an Alaskan town in 30 Days of Night, and Hamlet joining forces with heroes and villains to murder the evil wizard Shakespeare in Kill Shakespeare.

Several licensed comics round out IDW’s catalog. They’ve published long-running series for The Transformers, TMNT, My Little Pony, G.I. Joe, Dungeons and Dragons, and more. Boom! went for late Eighties and Nineties properties, but IDW reaches into a toy chest for their ideas.

#2 Viz Media

Known For: Dragon Ball, One Piece, Death Note, My Hero Academia, many more
Notable Characters: Son Goku, Uzumaki Naruto, Monkey D. Luffy, Deku

[One of the hero’s allies has been captured by the navy and faces execution]
Spandam:
That flag represents 170 countries across the four seas and the Grand Line! It is the world! Do you even get how insignificant your existence is compared to this? Do you understand how powerful the organization hunting this woman is?!
Luffy:If that’s Robin’s enemy, then I know what to do. Sniper King, shoot down that flag.
Sniper King:Roger.

One Piece “Say You Want to Live! We Are Friends!” (Season 9, Episode 5)

With Marvel and DC’s stranglehold on superheroes, it can be hard to remember that other countries publish their stories too. From the Land of the Rising Sun comes our penultimate superhero publisher: Viz Media.

An immigrant named Seiji Horobuchi started a business exporting American pop culture to Japan and became interested in importing manga to sell in the U.S. He founded Viz Media, which was bought by a larger company called Shueisha. Small successes snowballed, leading Viz Media to become one of the biggest comic companies in the world.

Viz Media has the most variety of stories of the five superhero publishers on this list. There are adventures like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece and darker tales like Death Note, The Promised Neverland, or Assassination Classroom. Perhaps you want lighter fare such as Sleepy Princess in Demon Castle or Food Wars. The list is almost endless.

Viz Media narrowly missed our top spot because there are different standards between Western comics and manga. It’s like comparing Star Trek to Star Wars: both are great, but audiences have different expectations for each.

#1 Image Comics

Known For: Spawn, The Walking Dead, Youngblood, Savage Dragon
Notable Characters: Spawn, Savage Dragon, Rick Grimes, Invincible

Raiden:You remind me of another dark knight.
Spawn:The billion-dollar crusader? He’s a friend.
Raiden:It seems we are both well-traveled.”

Mortal Kombat 11

Most superhero publishers ignore Marvel and DC. They have smaller fanbases, but publish work they care about or that isn’t the Big Two’s forte. Our number one was created to flip Marvel the bird. Introducing Image Comics.

Image Comics was the brainchild of Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Erik Larson, and Dave Olbirch. They believed Marvel made a fortune from merchandising their characters while underpaying them for their work. The group worked with Malibu Comics to found Image Comics, which prided itself on creator control and darker stories than what Marvel and DC offer.

Image’s heroes are the poster children for the Dark Age of Comics from the brooding, undead mercenary Spawn to proactive celebrity superhero team Youngblood to over-the-top alien cop Savage Dragon. These series made Image famous, but fans complained of them being dated.

New stories branched out to replace the dark heroes. Image struck gold again with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, which was adapted into a massively successful TV series. They achieved lesser successes with Kick-Ass, Invincible, and Bone. Image recently created the Massive-verse, focusing on Power Ranger-esque heroes like Radiant Black, Inferno Girl Red, and Rogue Sun.

Aside from Marvel and DC, who is your favorite superhero publisher? Is there one you like more than these five? Tell us in the comments.

Image:   © Luigi Novi / Wikimedia Commons

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